Arthur Wright and Jayforce WWII

Arthur Wright was a Leading Aircraftsman (LAC) serving with the RNZAF at the Hobsonville Base. He was part of Jayforce that occupied Japan at the conclusion of the Second World War.  He was sent to the base at Iwakuni located on the southern coast of Honshu about 20km from Hiroshima and the major naval base at Kure.

 

Arthur Wright was a Leading Aircraftsman (LAC) serving with the RNZAF at the Hobsonville Base. He was part of Jayforce that occupied Japan at the conclusion of the Second World War.  He was sent to the base at Iwakuni located on the southern coast of Honshu about 20km from Hiroshima and the major naval base at Kure.

Background[1]

As the war closed into the Japanese main island the Allies began to plan for a post-war occupation. This was run alongside Operation OLYMPIC, the November amphibious landings on Kyushu. The atomic weapons ended Japanese resistance and with the formal surrender on 2 September the occupation plan was activated. Up until October 1945 surrenders were taken of Japanese forces still in place across the Pacific and they were returned to Japan. New Zealand’s initial military presence in Japan was via the two cruisers HMNZS Achilles & Gambia. Both ships visited various Japanese ports and both had returned to New Zealand by early January 1946.

Jayforce

On 21 August 1945 the New Zealand government agreed to participation in the occupation of Japan as part of a Commonwealth force under the British.  The contribution was to be in the form of an Army Brigade group[2] and a single RNZAF squadron.[3] The RNZN did not play any role in Jayforce as it does appear that there was sufficient naval presence in Japan to support the occupation forces and the British Pacific Fleet was being disbanded. The United States forces, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur delayed the participation of the Commonwealth forces for as long as he could. This was a carry-over from his fractured relationship with his British and Australian commanders during the war.  This was also due to the fact that the disarmament and demilitarisation of Japan was achieved far more quickly than was anticipated in August 1945.[4] The formal establishment of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) was announced on 1 February 1946 consisting of British, Indian, Australian, and New Zealand personnel. At its height, 35,456 men and women were serving in Japan with the BCOF.[5]

The delay did not mean that the operation was smooth sailing for the government. It has been hoped that men from the 2nd NZ Division returning from Italy could be persuaded to volunteer but numbers were very limited and men were taken from reinforcements that had not left New Zealand but had been trained. The 9th brigade (as the formation was known) was despatched to Japan in February 1946. The length of service was established at twelve months. In 1946 and 1947 these men were replaced by volunteers in New Zealand. While its official title was 2NZEF (Japan Section) it was more commonly known as Jayforce. The Commonwealth force was deployed on the southern tip of Honshu and Eta Jima and had the responsibility for 3,200 square kilometres and over 1.4 million inhabitants. This was a rural province and relatively poor. The BCOF had two main tasks – demilitarisation and demobilisation of their designated region. Initially, time was spent searching for military equipment supposedly hidden in anticipation of the Allied landings. While other regions were fruitful in their discoveries, there was little material found. Repatriated Japanese military personnel were dealt with along with sending Korean labourers back to their homeland.  Later in the occupation Jayforce personnel took on a policing role to control the post-war black market. The forces also were to monitor the Japanese for any signs of an armed uprising. This never came to pass and as time moved on this task became neglected.

In 1947 British and Indian forces were withdrawn and in 1948 the New Zealand government decided to withdraw its forces as it was not willing to remain operating in an Australian-dominated environment. Once the decision was formalised in April 1948 the bulk of Jayforce returned to New Zealand by the end of 1948 with the last of the New Zealand officers returning in early 1949. 12,000 men and women served in Jayforce during its time in Japan. Fifteen members of the force were killed in accidents or died of illness and are buried in Yokohama’s Commonwealth cemetery.

RNZAF and Jayforce

Unlike the Army, the RNZAF squadron was made up of volunteers and its organisation was far simpler. At the end of the war in the Pacific, some 7,000 personnel of the RNZAF were still serving in various locations making transport and organisation much simpler than for the Army personnel.[6] It must also be remembered that at the same time the RNZAF was demobilising from its wartime strength and the process finished in July 1946 when numbers serving dwindled to 5,300 men and women from the wartime high of over 40,000 serving with the RAF/RNZAF in all theatres.[7] In November 1945 when the call went out for volunteers to join Jayforce from within the RNZAF over 1,500 men responded for the 250 ground-staff role (including Leading Aircraftsmen like Arthur) and 150 pilots sought to fly the 24 fighters assigned to the Squadron.[8] A thorough selection process was undertaken to get the best and most qualified to be deployed in the first major post-war operation undertaken by the RNZAF.[9] Once the successful individuals were notified of their place by the selection board, they undertook training including ceremonial drill. The RNZAF was determined to send ‘a show squadron, show personnel and show equipment in very sense of the word and this they did.’[10] The quality of the equipment and stores was the envy of the British and Australian squadrons who tried to pool their stores with the New Zealanders. This attempt was gently rebuffed by the Squadron commanding officer. Clearly then Arthur Wright was good enough at his role to be selected to serve with the Squadron.  Along with the pilots and maintenance personnel, there were medical, dental, crash-fire, armament, catering, signals, meteorology, intelligence and ground administration personnel sent with the squadron. This was so that the formation could be self-supporting, rather than having to reply on British, American, or Australian squadrons.[11]

The unit selected by the RNZAF as their contribution to Jayforce was 14 Squadron.[12] This was a fighter squadron equipped with brand new 24 FG-1D Corsair fighters.[13] The personnel consisted of 280 pilots and ground-crew (including Arthur) that were shipped to Japan in March 1946 under the command of the Squadron Leader J.J. de Willimoff.[14] The squadron assembled at Ardmore prior to departure and were drilled continuously with the intent of developing a strong espirit de corps. The training period took three months and was carried out alongside the usual flying exercises and aircraft maintenance.[15] After marching down Queen Street, the Squadron embarked from Princess Wharf in Auckland on 8 March 1946 aboard the RN light aircraft carrier HMS Glory along with three months of supplies and equipment including a mullet boat that hopeful members of the squadron hoped to take sailing.[16] From accounts this was a difficult trip for the RNZAF personnel. An unfamiliar ship, sleeping in hammocks, along with the inevitable sea-sickness meant a miserable trip for the majority of the personnel. However, they were entitled to the daily tot of rum issued to the sailors.[17] The carrier arrived at the port of Kure on 23 March 1946 and then proceeded on to Iwakuni. On arrival the aircraft were craned onto a junk and then manhandled ashore while the vehicles were loaded onto lighters and taken ashore. The squadron personnel were transferred ashore by small boats. Initially, conditions at Iwakuni were very difficult due to the desolated state of the airfield and it took some effort by the Squadron to bring things up to an acceptable standard for operations.  Weekly flights from New Zealand using DC3 (Dakota) aircraft of 41 Squadron kept the squadron supplied. The American canteens were well stocked when compared to the RNZAF meagre offerings. The only major difference was that the New Zealanders had access to alcohol while the American canteens were dry. This led to a thriving trade between the Americans and New Zealanders for food and other items. The food situation did get so bad that a mutiny almost broke out amongst the squadron demanding immediate improvements.[18]

Upon arrival at Iwakuni the 24 Corsairs were grounded and the entire hydraulic system of each place was overhauled. This took two months so the first flying operations did not begin until late May. During the Squadron’s service in Japan aircraft maintenance was a constant task for the ground staff (including men like Arthur).[19] The duties of 14 Squadron included flying operations from the airfield to keep an eye on the Japanese population and to make sure that bombed runways were not being repaired or other military action was being undertaken. Japan had over 3.3 million trained troops on the main islands along with some 12,000 aircraft and weaponry at wars end which did pose a real threat to the Allied forces. Other patrols out over the Sea of Japan located Korean refugees escaping the communist North Korea after the partition by the Allies and the USSR.[20] Ground searches were also undertaken by 14 Squadron personnel. A patrol located a number of radar equipped 40mm anti-aircraft batteries near the airfield.[21] A programme of training was also instituted by the

Squadron including air combat, bombing & strafing, and rocket firing. Mock dogfights and aerobatics were carried with RAAF Kittyhawks.

The main enemy for the RNZAF personnel was boredom. This was not helped by very strict non-fraternisation rules that were relaxed in the later period. Gambling also took up a great part of the off-duty time. However, the personnel of Jayforce did have a large number of VD cases suggesting that the rule was breached more than it was followed and local commanders had turned a blind eye to New Zealand-Japanese interaction. It was also a cultural interchange. Upon arrival at Iwakuni the local population was staving and very soon a thriving black market developed. Food became a daily matter of ingenuity as the rations supplied from the British were quite awful and it was discovered that some of the New Zealander’s rations were being diverted to British units in Kure.[22] Devastation was everywhere including the Inland Sea littered with hulks of Japanese ships sunk in the last months of the war. Visits to Tokyo were also made during leave time. During their off time, personnel visited other parts of Japan and many visited Hiroshima. There was no risk of radiation poisoning by mid-1946 due to the nature of the nuclear device that detonated over the city on 6 August 1945. Personnel on leave could also go to the Jayforce recreation area located some 644kms north of Tokyo, almost at the opposite end of Honshu from Iwakuni. Organising recreation was a major task of the commanding officers of Jayforce and indeed all the Commonwealth forces. de Willmott kept his pilots occupied by assigning them other tasks at the airbase, for example one pilot was made OC the crash-fire unit.[23]

On a number of occasions personnel from 14 Squadron were detailed to undertake ceremonial functions in Tokyo to ‘show the flag’ perhaps thankful they had some training before arrival in Japan. This was the first time that New Zealand military forces had been deployed to an Asian country and despite the presence of British, Australian, Indian and American forces the Squadron felt isolated. The monthly mail drop by the Dakota was eagerly awaited.  During the period of the Squadron’s deployment 104 flights were made carrying 1,477 personnel, 51.9 tonnes of supplies, and 112 tonnes of mail were delivered.[24]

14 Squadron remained at Iwakuni until March 1948 when it was transferred to Bofu further along the coast from Iwakuni. It remained there until the end of 1948 when it returned to New Zealand. During its service in Japan, four aircraft were lost to accidents and the other twenty were burnt and not returned to New Zealand.[25] The only casualty was Flight Lieutenant Cecil Wright who Corsair crashed on takeoff killing him and destroying the aircraft. In one major incident occurred when 500,000 gallons of fuel was lost when a petrol dump caught fire. Fortunately, no personnel were injured.[26] The first volunteers returned home in December 1946 to be replaced by other personnel. Squadron Leader D.F. St. George assumed command from de Willmott during the deployment. In November 1948, 14 Squadron personnel embarked for New Zealand on MV Westralia. Jayforce is a unique period in New Zealand’s military history and was an unusual operation for both the Army and the RNZAF.

 

 

Bibliography

 Brocklebank, Laurie, Jayforce: New Zealand and the Military Occupation of Japan 1945-48, Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Darby, Charles, RNZAF: The First Decade 1937-1946, Melbourne: Kookaburra Technical Publications, 1978.

Horn, Alex, Wings Over the Pacific: The RNZAF in the Pacific Air War, Auckland: Random Century, 1993.

McGibbon, Ian (ed.), The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 256-258.

Martyn, E.W., Swift to the Sky: New Zealand’s Military Aviation History, Auckland: Viking/Penguin, 2010.

RNZAF Public Relations, Royal New Zealand Air Force: Yesterday and Today, Wellington: RNZAF/Ministry of Defence, 1985.

Wright, Matthew, Kiwi Air Power: The History of the RNZAF, Reed: Auckland, 1998.

[1] Material for this and the following sections taken from Ian McGibbon (ed.), The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 256-258.

[2] A brigade group consisted of approximately 4,000 personnel including infantry and supporting units along with a unit of nurses and women’s auxiliary volunteers.

[3] Laurie Brocklebank, Jayforce: New Zealand and the Military Occupation of Japan 1945-48, Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 33.

[4] This was fortunate when the Korean War came around in 1950.

[5] Laurie Brocklebank, Jayforce: New Zealand and the Military Occupation of Japan 1945-48, Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 54.

[6] E.W. Martyn, Swift to the Sky: New Zealand’s Military Aviation History, Auckland: Viking/Penguin, 2010, p. 188.

[7] ibid.

[8] Laurie Brocklebank, Jayforce: New Zealand and the Military Occupation of Japan 1945-48, Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 33.

[9] Matthew Wright, Kiwi Air Power: The History of the RNZAF, Reed: Auckland, 1998, p. 116.

[10] Laurie Brocklebank, Jayforce: New Zealand and the Military Occupation of Japan 1945-48, Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 49.

[11] ibid., p. 50.

[12] 14 Squadron was a wartime unit and the RNZAF’s first ‘Pacific squadron’ formed in April 1942 that had been a fighter (sometimes referred to as a fighter bomber) squadron that finished the war operating Corsairs. See Alex Horn, Wings Over the Pacific: The RNZAF in the Pacific Air War, Auckland: Random Century, 1993, p. 223 and Royal New Zealand Air Force: Yesterday and Today, Wellington: RNZAF/Ministry of Defence, 1985, p. 5.

[13] Charles Darby, RNZAF: The First Decade 1937-1946, Melbourne: Kookaburra Technical Publications, 1978, p. 104. A carrier based fighter developed for the U S Navy. The US-supplied Corsairs were assembled by the Goodyear Corporation.

[14] Alex Horn, Wings Over the Pacific: The RNZAF in the Pacific Air War, Auckland: Random Century, 1993. J.J. de Willimoff served for the duration of the war in the Pacific with various squadrons and at 28, was one of the RNZAF’s experienced leaders in 1945 when he was offered command of the Squadron.

[15] Laurie Brocklebank, Jayforce: New Zealand and the Military Occupation of Japan 1945-48, Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1997, 49.

[16] E.W. Martyn, Swift to the Sky: New Zealand’s Military Aviation History, Auckland: Viking/Penguin, 2010, p. 188. See also Matthew Wright, Kiwi Air Power: The History of the RNZAF, pp. 116-117 and Laurie Brocklebank, Jayforce: New Zealand and the Military Occupation of Japan 1945-48, p. 50.

[17] Matthew Wright, Kiwi Air Power: The History of the RNZAF, Reed: Auckland, 1998, p. 116 -Personal reminiscence from Nolan Wynn.

[18] Matthew Wright, Kiwi Air Power: The History of the RNZAF, Reed: Auckland, 1998, p. 122.

[19] Laurie Brocklebank, Jayforce: New Zealand and the Military Occupation of Japan 1945-48, Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 151.

[20] Matthew Wright, Kiwi Air Power: The History of the RNZAF, Reed: Auckland, 1998, p. 119.

[21] Laurie Brocklebank, Jayforce: New Zealand and the Military Occupation of Japan 1945-48, Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 128.

[22] Matthew Wright, Kiwi Air Power: The History of the RNZAF, Reed: Auckland, 1998, p. 121.

[23] Laurie Brocklebank, Jayforce: New Zealand and the Military Occupation of Japan 1945-48, Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 156.

[24] Matthew Wright, Kiwi Air Power: The History of the RNZAF, Reed: Auckland, 1998, p. 120.

[25] Charles Darby, RNZAF: The First Decade 1937-1946, Melbourne: Kookaburra Technical Publications, 1978, p. 109. See also E.W. Martyn, Swift to the Sky: New Zealand’s Military Aviation History, p. 188 and Matthew Wright, Kiwi Air Power: The History of the RNZAF, p. 122.

[26] Matthew Wright, Kiwi Air Power: The History of the RNZAF, Reed: Auckland, 1998, p. 122.